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Friday, July 30, 2021

Edtech emerges as a red-hot business. How relevant will it be after the pandemic?

The heydays of Covid-19 instilled in many the feelings of hopelessness and fear. The mighty human civilisation had, for the first time in recent history, stepped into the unknown. Nations had no clue in dealing with the mysterious virus—they were left with only one option, to go on complete lockdowns. In many ways, it could have been said that globalisation had failed us. Large corporations, small businesses and world trade, all affected on a scale never before seen.

But in only one year, the world has adapted to a new way of living. Businesses are coming back on their feet. With the help of stimulus package provided by different governments across the world, the financial markets have bounced back and have made record returns for investors the world over.

Many industries have benefited due to Covid-19; rather than struggling to survive, their businesses have thrived. One such is online education, or edtech. Although edtech platforms have existed for long, Covid-19 has proved to be a boon, for especially start-ups.

Naturally, any industry that shifts overnight from being a tool to a necessity will have growing pains, and edtech as a sector is no exception. Startups with the long-term ambitions of solving education’s inequities had to come up with quick fixes that would serve millions of learners.

A sector that was notoriously undercapitalized had to reach venture scale while adapting to the realities of a remote work landscape like never before. As schools seesawed between hybrid and remote, education technology companies had to be nimble as well. The ubiquity of remote learning surely brought a boom to new users, but may have in fact limited the sector’s ability to innovate in lieu of fast, easy scale.

For edtech in 2020, flexible and scrappy was a survival tactic that led to profits, growth and most of all, aha moments that technology was needed in the way we learn. Now, as we enter the rest of the decade, the sector will have to shake off its short-term-fix mentality to evolve from tunnel vision to wide-pan ambition.

The edtech industry in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh,The Covid-19 crisis has been a major catalyst in enhancing the learning process not just for students and educators, but also for investors and edtechstartups.

Take the instance of Instructory. From its launching in 2019 to the nationwide lockdown in March 2020, they had around 1,500 students, informs Rifat M Huq, its CEO. In the last 10 months, they secured 40, 000-course enrollments.

“During our last promotional offer, we sold courses worth over a crore in just 13 days,” says Rifat. Instructory now has 82 teachers teaching different skills online, and thousands of students.

Another exciting edtech company in Bangladesh is Programming Hero. The company provides high-quality programming lessons at an affordable cost. About 3,000 students got admitted to their recent complete web development course, despite only being the third batch.  The cost to join the course is Tk 5,500.

These figures suggest that Programming Hero is also an ed-tech company that has a valuation of over crores.

Another successful edtechstartup is Teach it. Founded by Naimul, Yameen, and Tahmid to help students attain quality education, this startup has seen their subscribers multiplied during the time of the pandemic.

Teach It was one of the top startups of Banglalink IT Incubator 2.0 and was one of the top nine startups of Youth Co: Lab Bangladesh, organised by UNDP and Citi Foundation. Teach It was also a graduate of Startup School by Y Combinator and is a grantee of Startup Bangladesh- Idea Project, and the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust Award.

“Our e-learning industry is booming. Teachers are now more willing than ever to be a part of virtual learning. Platforms like Teach It is helping them get accustomed to the mechanism of online learning,”Naimul said.

The success story of Shikho—another edtechstartup is inspiring. Since its launch on October 30, 2020, Shikho has seen a surge in users with over 10,000 downloads on Google Play Store.

Shikho is offering quality education with a blend of innovation at a highly competitive price. According to its Head of HR and Communications – Tahiya Chowdhury, Shikho is an intersection between three elements – academic expertise, creative design, and technology.

The team behind Shikho consists of a pool of experts specialising in their respective fields.For quality assurance, this start-up has a team of script writers and “subject matter experts” who design the lectures in a manner that best meets students’ needs. They also have a team that solely works on questions, illustrative solutions, and text and image-based resources which they call “smart notes”.

This practically removes the need for bulky guidebooks that students traditionally have to buy separately.In terms of creative design, Shikho has taken up to the challenge of diverting students’ attention from using smartphone applications for entertainment purposes to effective and engaging learning.

Bohubrihi is another edtech company that offers skill development courses online.Starting from basic computer knowledge to IELTS practice tips—they offer a variety of courses.But their primary focus is on technology and business-related courses.The courses are especially designed for Bangladeshi students to help them in their professional life.

Though the company now has a team of at least 10 people, it started out with only two university friends, Yanur Islam Piash and Galib Hassan Khan.So far, 28,000 students have enrolled in 27 different courses on their platform.

An alternative of the coaching industry?

So, will the Edtech business model change the traditional training industry permanently?

“It was never possible to get such numbers of students before Covid,” says Raaqib Hasan of Yamaha Music Bangladesh. The school is providing piano and guitar lessons online and at the moment, it is the largest online music school in Bangladesh.

“Students from all age groups are joining music classes from home. Even corporate job-holders are getting enrolled. People are learning how to learn on the internet, just like they shop online. Even after the pandemic is over, online courses will not be replaced,” he adds, 

It is very difficult to run a training centre or coaching centre in Dhaka because of the super high rent for space. Space rent of a coaching centre or training centre ultimately gets paid out of students’ pockets.

The cost of space in cities varies from Tk70 to 150 per square foot. Going by the lowest possible calculation, it will cost Tk2,300 per month for an organisation to provide a chair to teach something in Dhaka (3 days per week & 15 students in 1,000 square feet).

Online classes allow trainees and trainers to not only save on space rent, but also other costs on things like transportation, maintenance etc. All these savings ultimately lower the cost of education and that is why Edtech will play a vital role in the future to make academic education and skill development training super affordable.

Edtech companies are grabbing the market for skill development training business. Before Covid, these companies were struggling to compete with traditional training centres. The old brands were dominating the market despite charging high fees.

But now the scenario has started to change. People can’t move like before. An understanding of and widespread demand for skill development developed during the pandemic, especially among entry-level job seekers and underskilled-underemployed individuals, who might not be able to compete in a post-pandemic job market.

Such circumstances, meanwhile, have created the perfect business scope for Edtech companies.

Globally Edtech business is a billion-dollar business. The global education technology market size was valued at USD 76.4 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of about 18% from 2020 to 2027.

There is no market research about the market size of Edtech businesses in Bangladesh. But an assumption can be made by comparing with the market size of the coaching business. It was reported on a national daily that the market size of the coaching business is 32,000 crore taka. Education Research Council, an independent organisation, said the coaching business has a market size of around 2,500 crores.

If a major chunk of coaching business starts to operate online, the market size of Edtech will become more than Tk 2,500 crores.

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